The pope’s red shoes, but not his phone number

Perhaps not content with writing the preface to a children’s book, Pope Benedict XVI’s private secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, is co-author with Christine Schropf of a slim volume, “Why Does the Pope Have Red Shoes?” The original German version – “Warum Tragt der Papst Rote Schuhe” – was released in March. Cantagalli released the Italian version earlier this month, but the publisher is closed for the holidays, so plans for other language editions cannot be verified.

In the book, Msgr. Ganswein responds to 19 questions from children, including the title query, which we’ll return to in a moment. But first, Schropf, who is a journalist, explains on the back cover that children sent in more than 150 questions. The only question the papal secretary absolutely refused to answer, she said, was: “What is the pope’s phone number?” Msgr. Ganswein told her, “If I reveal that, the telephone would ring day and night and the Holy Father would never get any rest.”

These are the shoes worn by Pope Benedict XVI at his weekly general audience Nov. 28. (CNS/Paul Haring)As for the red shoes, Msgr. Ganswein wrote that the pope’s cassock and zucchetto are white, “but all the accessories are red,” including the shoes, because red is the color of martyrdom and the pope is the successor of the martyred St. Peter. Also, he said, “red is the color of burning love, the color of the fire of the Spirit.”

 Two questions elicted particularly brief replies: First, what was the pope’s fourth-grade report card like? “Unfortunately, I don’t know, but I’m convinced it would have been excellent.”

The second question was: “When was the last time the pope cried?”

“This, I don’t know,” the secretary responded.

Bhutto assassination recalls struggles of church in Pakistan

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto smiles while meeting with leaders of the Pakistan People's Party at her residence in Karachi in late November. (CNS/Reuters)Today’s assassination of Benazir Bhutto is also an occasion to reflect on the impact of the Catholic Church in Muslim-majority Pakistan. As this story from 2005 notes, “Catholic missionaries have educated some of Pakistan’s most influential politicians,” including Bhutto as well as current Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf.

The 2005 story itself is about a mob attack on a Catholic church compound in Sangla Hill, sparked by allegations that a Christian had burned pages from the Quran. But it also contains excellent background information on how Catholics and Muslims had lived in peace:

Christians and Muslims in Sangla Hill said they previously enjoyed good relations.

“We even used to attend each other’s weddings,” said Botta Masih Shindhu, a local Christian leader. “This is the first time we have seen anything like this in our lifetime.”

“The attackers came from outside this town,” said Mufti Muhammad Zulfiqar Rizvi, leader of the largest mosque in the city. He denied allegations that the crowd was incited over the mosque loudspeakers.

“I tried to stop them. I told them there should be no violence against any religious house,” said the bearded, smiling man. “But they would not listen.”

But that’s not to say that Catholic-Muslim relations are typically rosy. Far from it. A month after our Sangla Hill story, we had this from Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi (who is quoted in today’s assassination story) decrying the eviction of hundreds of Christians from their homes.

Bishop Lobo also figured prominently in this CNS story about a conference in Italy on Christian-Muslim relations. He said then that most violence between members of the two groups is based on caste differences, not religion, and that the “Muslim world” is far from uniform.

PHOTO: Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto smiles while meeting with leaders of the Pakistan People’s Party at her residence in Karachi in late November. (CNS/Reuters)

Barn Mass celebrated in Indiana

Ever heard of a “barn Mass?” I hadn’t either — and I once worked in Iowa! – until I read about a barn Mass celebrated earlier this month in Kokomo, Ind. One participant told The Catholic Moment in the Diocese of Lafayette, Ind., “It’s humbling to be in a barn and not sitting in a pew in a heated church.”

More on coping with grief at Christmas

Dec. 25 has come and gone, but that doesn’t mean Christmas is over. And so, following up on our post about Christmas for the lonely and grieving, here’s another story on holiday coping mechanisms that is worth sharing if you know someone who is grieving this season, courtesy of the Catholic Explorer in the Diocese of Joliet, Ill.

Mary not just for Catholics anymore

An image of Mary and the Christ Child is preserved at St. Sophia Orthodox Church in Ohrid, Macedonia. The church had once served as a mosque after the Turks captured Ohrid in the 14th century. Even though Islam recognizes Mary as the mother of the prophet Jesus, the eyes of the figures in this fresco were gouged out in keeping with Muslim belief, which forbids the rendering of humans in places of worship. (CNS/Sean Sprague)During this holy Christmas season, Mary’s role in the Incarnation is a topic central to our Christian faith. Many articles appear this time of year in both the religious and the secular press examining who Mary was and what various faiths have to say about her.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I came across an excellent article we posted last year on how Protestants and Muslims both embrace Mary as an important figure in religious history. As our Pat Zapor pointed out, Mary is becoming increasingly popular among Protestants, while many Muslims highly revere her as a mediatrix between humans and God. Pat’s story is worth reading again as a sign of how elements of our Catholic faith are embraced by others.

PHOTO: An image of Mary and the Christ Child is preserved at St. Sophia Orthodox Church in Ohrid, Macedonia. The church had once served as a mosque after the Turks captured Ohrid in the 14th century. Even though Islam recognizes Mary as the mother of the prophet Jesus, the eyes of the figures in this fresco were gouged out in keeping with Muslim belief, which forbids the rendering of humans in places of worship. (CNS/Sean Sprague)

Tony Blair’s low-key conversion, Part 2

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner Oct. 18 in New York City. (CNS/Paul Haring)Tony Blair’s reception into the Catholic Church this Christmas season also is a reminder of how silly the speculation was that the former British prime minister would announce his conversion at the Al Smith Dinner in New York City when it was held a couple months back. Judging from our story, it certainly seems more logical that his reception would be private and that it would be revealed via a low-key announcement.

If you missed it, our own Paul Haring wrote earlier this fall about covering the dinner as a photographer. Whether the speculation was silly or not, no photographer wants to miss a big moment like that. But as Paul noted after the announcement in the Waldorf-Astoria ballroom never came, “maybe this wasn’t the right spot for Blair to reveal something so personal and meaningful.”

PHOTO: Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation dinner Oct. 18 in New York City. (CNS/Paul Haring)

Local Santa embraces annual role

Who among you can resist the following headline?

 – “Better be good, Santa Claus is already in town” (from the Arkansas Catholic)

A Christmas Mass for the lonely and grieving

The birth of Christ is depicted in stained glass at St. Michael's Cathedral in Toronto. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)The homily I heard at Mass this morning touched on, among other things, looking out for people who are feeling lonely or sad this Christmas, perhaps because this is the first Christmas without a loved one. It reminded me of this story I read the other day about a special Christmas liturgy “that the lonely and the grieving can call their own.” Details of the “Blue Christmas” Mass and how it has been adapted for the lonely or grieving are in the National Catholic Reporter.

PHOTO: The birth of Christ is depicted in stained glass at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Toronto. (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)

Harry Forbes interviewed on “Golden Compass” controversy

Harry Forbes (CNS/Nancy Wiechec)If you have been following the controversy over the review of “The Golden Compass” by the U.S. bishops’ Office for Film and Broadcasting, you’ll likely be interested in reading this story in the Fairfield County Catholic, newspaper of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn. Headlined “Film office under fire for doing its job,” the story interviews director Harry Forbes about the controversial review and its subsequent withdrawal, the difference between “The Golden Compass” and “The Da Vinci Code,” how the office’s review process works, the earlier controversy over the review of “Brokeback Mountain,” and the separate controversy over how New Line Cinema used the “Golden Compass” review in its advertising.

Mary Ann Glendon confirmed by Senate, rumors quashed

Mary Ann Glendon at an April 2007 news conference at the Vatican. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)Here in Washington, separating fact from rumor is a major challenge for those of us who are news junkies, and that was especially true in this week’s confirmation of Mary Ann Glendon as the new U.S. ambassador to the Vatican.

Glendon, of course, is well-known to those of us in the Catholic press who have been following her as a newsmaker. In 1995, she was the first woman named to head a Vatican delegation to a major United Nations’ conference, the U.N. Conference on Women in Beijing, and in 2004 she was named president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.

A couple weeks after her nomination as ambassador was announced early last month, speculation surfaced that she was being blocked by Republican members of the Senate. The supposed reason: Glendon had been an adviser to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who some think is not conservative enough on social issues to deserve the party’s nomination next summer. One magazine’s blog even quoted a “senior Republican Senate aide” as saying the nomination was dead on arrival.

But when it is just one blog post quoting one unnamed source, you never really know how good the source is. But because of the Internet, the story spread.

The rumors were fueled further a couple weeks later by a Robert Novak column saying the nomination was being held up in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The culprit this time? According to Novak, it was Catholics for a Free Choice.

Now it is no surprise that Catholics for a Free Choice, which has been condemned by the U.S. bishops, would be opposed to Glendon. But Novak never said whether the group has enough political clout on Capitol Hill to convince Senate Democrats to take a public stand against Glendon. Even when you are the majority party, you don’t pick every fight that you can, especially when it’s not a Supreme Court nominee or some important Cabinet post.

The fact that Glendon was confirmed with no opposition and with little public attention speaks volumes about the role the Internet plays in the spread of both facts and rumors — and trying to tell the difference. Even after the nomination was approved Wednesday evening, one group was still bemoaning the “fact” that the nomination was on hold.

Even early this morning, another news service’s blog was saying the Bush administration might be getting “cold feet” on the nomination (even though it had been confirmed 36 hours earlier).

I guess the lesson is, it’s always best to check your facts first.

PHOTO: Mary Ann Glendon at an April 2007 news conference at the Vatican. (CNS/Alessia Giuliani, Catholic Press Photo)

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